Blue Waves girls lacrosse team ‘sticks it’ to cancer

Riverhead High School senior Sherlynn Canel, a varsity lacrosse athlete, has watched and played hundreds lacrosse games over the years, but the May 3 match almost brought her to tears — with good reason.

“It was so nice to be able to cheer on my teammates and knowing that it was for a bigger cause — not just me but for everyone in general. It’s such a big cause and I’m so happy that we were all able to be a part of it,” she said.

At Friday’s match against Bay Shore High School, Sherlynn’s teammates honored her during a special fundraiser for Stick it to Cancer, an American Cancer Society campaign that acknowledges and supports cancer survivors. At the game, which Riverhead won 10-6, Sherlynn’s teammates all wore “stick it to cancer” T-shirts and yellow scrunchies, a color associated with rhabdomyosarcoma, the cancer Sherlynn was diagnosed with her sophomore year in high school.

Rhabdomyosarcoma is “a primitive pediatric malignant soft tissue sarcoma of skeletal muscle phenotype that originates from a primitive mesenchymal cell,” according to the National Cancer Institute.

During the fundraiser, Sherlynn received a check from the Dylan Newman “Forever 5 Foundation,” which she said will go toward her education. She plans to begin studying nursing at NYU this fall.

“I’ve always wanted to do something in the medical field but having gone through treatment kind of really showed me exactly where it is that I want to dedicate the knowledge that I learn in nursing school,” she said. “I really want to focus on oncology, pediatric oncology, and use my knowledge toward that.”

Riverhead High School’s girls varsity lacrosse coach Megan Pepe also has a personal connection with cancer.

“I lost my dad to cancer five years ago, and he was a lacrosse coach,” she said. “He coached many teams around Long Island, and he was my mentor. So I really looked up to him when it came to coaching and even teaching. So I like to try and keep his memory and his spirit alive by hosting these games. 

Sherlynn, Ms. Pepe continued, “ came up to me when we were starting our season, and she just wanted to give me a heads up that she was recovering, and she was in remission from cancer, and I really wanted to kind of have this game to honor her and her journey.”

After her diagnosis, Sherlynn was not able to play lacrosse two years during chemotherapy and the two months of radiation that followed. In September 2023, she got the joyous news that she was cleared to return to the field.

Ms. Pepe commended the team for playing “100% to the best effort” on Friday. 

“From start to finish, it was one whole complete game. I was super proud of everyone’s effort. They really showed that they were stronger together in that game. And I think playing for a bigger purpose definitely helped.”